Editor's Note: This is the last in a series of articles about the Top 10 local news stories of 2017.
When Finney County residents went to the ballot box and passed a .3-cent sales tax increase in November, they did so with an eye on the future.
Voters on Nov. 7 passed the sales tax by a vote of 2,048-1,555. The interlocal sales tax agreement between the city and Finney County will pay for urbanized improvements to Jennie Barker Road, ongoing improvements to Lee Richardson Zoo, construction and operation of an 11,068-square-foot indoor shooting range intended for use by local law enforcement and the public, and construction, operation and maintenance of a 15,061-square-foot fire station on the city’s east side.
The passage of the sales tax increase is The Telegram’s No. 1 news story of 2017.
The increase will go into effect April 1, 2018, sunset in 2033, and receipts on the sales tax will start filtering into local coffers in June. The 15-year sales tax hike is expected to yield about $2.15 million annually to fund the balance of each project, which has been estimated at about $18 million total.
In late June, a series of city projects were introduced that would be funded by a .25-cent city wide sales tax hike. That quickly turned into an interlocal agreement between the city and county, and in July the beginnings of a county wide sales tax hike of .3 cents was put forward for a public vote in November.
All together, the projects will cost, without operating cost expenses included, approximately $11,080,000, based on a tally of expenses presented by city and county officials.
The gun range is planned to be located on Old Highway 83 South near the old city landfill and will be designed for gradual upgrades and facility add-ons, at a cost $2.5 million. The annual operating costs of the facility would be about $25,000.
According to the proposed gun range's architect, City Commissioner Dan Fankhauser, the facility would include two classrooms, men's and women's restrooms with lockers, an office, ammo storage, a lounge area, and a 25-yard firing range with eight stations encompassing 900 square feet. The building also would be designed for periodic external and internal improvements.
The gun range would replace the current gun range — built in 1967 — located near the Finney County Fairgrounds, which is deteriorating.
The city intends to open the new facility to the public. The extent to which it will be open to public use will be dependent on scheduling, however, and the logistics of that scheduling process have not yet been determined.
"It's our intention that whether it's through other agencies, through Garden City Community College's uses or from public users, that this facility would be used by folks both inside Garden City and Finney County and also within our larger region," said City Manager Matt Allen.
Lee Richardson Zoo improvements funded by the sales tax increase will include a new flamingo exhibit, a new primate exhibit, as well as updates to the zoo’s current animal health facility.
Zoo officials have been recommending the improvements for some time, and the Association of Zoos & Aquariums agrees with the zoo's assessment.
"These three projects we've been talking about have been noted on our recent (AZA) inspection. We noted them, too. They were already on (capital improvement project lists) and all that, so we were working toward it," Zoo Director Kristi Newland said in September. "They (AZA) say they're all small and outmoded just like we do. We are AZA accredited. We meet the highest standards."
The current exhibit for the Chilean flamingos was built in 1987 and includes a large, open exhibit area with a pond and a night house, but both are deteriorating. A new flamingo exhibit is being proposed for adjacent to the east and northeast shore of the zoo's main duck pond. Planned modifications include a zero to 3-foot deep wading area for the flamingos, as well as the addition of a recirculating pump and skimmer filtration system. There also will be a viewing deck for zoo guests to view the bright pink birds in a more natural habitat.
A bigger night house is planned that will include an indoor wading area for the birds, as well as a winter viewing area.
Originally built in 1982, the existing primate facility houses two red-bellied spider monkeys and two red-ruffed lemurs. The small, oblique-shaped habitat located next to the flamingos contains climbing space for the animals, with sleeping quarters that separate the two species.’A new facility will include a larger night house and larger, more realistic outdoor areas, as well as a primate-inspired playground for children.
"Once we have the new facility, it will be built for up to six on each side, so we can either get more of the same species or compatible species, or stay below six and get to breed," Newland said. "It will also be a benefit to the animals and the guests because it will be a year-round habitat."
The new facility won't be tree-top high, but will give the animals more height and natural surroundings than their current exhibit, as well as more sun.
The construction of the new primate facility would expand around the current flamingo exhibit, so the birds would not have to be moved if or when the primate exhibit is built.
The zoo's current animal health facility, built in 1980, is on the south side of the zoo and is small, Newland said. The zoo wants to expand and remodel the existing facility that serves as the clinic, animals operations and quarantine facility.
Newland said zoo staff take some animals to the current health facility, though the largest animal that can utilize it is a jaguar, so expanding the facility would allow staff to bring larger animals to a bigger facility and have room, the proper tables and supports in a more sterile environment.
"The clinic, in its way, can benefit a number of species. Those habitats are more focused," Newland said of the various zoo projects. "We've adapted to do the best we can with what we have, so to prioritize one over the other is really hard."
Garden City Commissioner Roy Cessna said during a city town hall meeting prior to the election that the three projects at the zoo would help enhance "a crown jewel" of Garden City.
"Not only for the tourist aspect in our community, but tourists that come into our community to visit our zoo," he said.
To meet the need of the growth — particularly on the east side — of Garden City, a third fire station will be built in the future. The new station will also have three equipment bays, additional sleeping quarters, a training area and a fitness room.
Garden City Fire Chief Allen Shelton said the station would require a minimum of 15 new employees from the fire department to keep five people on duty at all times and maintain operations, with an annual cost between $800,000 and $1 million.
The fire station would be built on land near the intersection of Jennie Barker Road and Schulman Avenue.
"Over the last several years on the east side of the city, we continue to have growth," Shelton said. "And of course, here in the last few years, we've seen a significant amount of continued growth with industry and commercial, as well as residential."
Shelton said construction of a third station at the intersection of Jennie Barker Road and Schulman Avenue would create a triangulation that could deliver optimal service to the city, accommodating existing and future needs.
Shelton said the new facility would enable the fire department to "deploy manpower and equipment where we need it in a response time that works for that side of the city."
Shelton said the new station might be somewhat larger than the central fire station to compensate for the added presence of police and EMS. The station will sleep 10 people and accommodate one of two county EMS teams.
Shelton noted that the third station offers a vantage point from which first responders could travel in virtually any direction via Highway 156, Mary Street and U.S. Highway 50.
"The growth has already started," he said. "I see the continued growth of Garden City. I've been here for a long time. I've served as fire chief for the past 35 years. I've seen nothing but growth. We're looking at the future. We're looking at today, but we're also looking at the future. The future growth of the city is definitely going to need this station."
Improvements planned for Jennie Barker Road would bring acquisition of right of way sufficient for three lanes of traffic in the short term and five lanes in the long term. With that would come sidewalks, walking trails, a storm sewer, and traffic signals at the intersection of Mary Street and Kansas Highway 156.
The improvements would effectively mirror those already completed by the city on the stretch of Jennie Barker — dubbed the “bypass of the bypass” — moving south from Schulman. Allen said that 15 years ago, the city and county had agreed to split the construction costs to update Jennie Barker Road straight down the middle. The city would cover the southern half of the project and the county would cover the northern half. Only the southern half got done.
The county has repeatedly tried to tackle the project, but County Commissioner Bill Clifford said that to his knowledge, there was never enough money. The County Commission brought the endeavor to the fore once again in July and agreed to allocate $2 million to a basic expansion and bituminous resurfacing project that would cost approximately $4.38 million, with no concrete pavement, storm sewer, right of way acquisition, easement or utility relocations included.
Those luxuries cost more than $6 million, and the county still would need the city to match funding on the bulk of the project. The $2 million allocation also would drain the county's roughly $5 million special highway reserve fund by 40 percent, according to County Administrator Randy Partington.
That was after the county had allocated $1.5 million in 2016 in hopes that the city would match that amount for a $3 million project. But after a thorough engineering study in 2017, new cost estimates were provided, and the price is only going up.
Since 2009, construction estimates for the barebones version of the project have shown a gradual increase. The cost in 2009 would have been about $2.5 million, then $2.7 million in 2010, and about $4.4 million in 2017. In 2019, the cost is anticipated to reach $4.7 million, about $5.6 million in 2025, and more than $6.4 million in 2030.
"You can see how in 17 years it has more than doubled the cost to do it," County Administator Randy Partington said in justifying the need to move forward with the road improvements. "The County Commission, at this point, if we're going to improve it as they feel it is needed, they want to take care of it before that price is unachievable."